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How to read better instead of simply reading more

By Angel Martinez Published Jan 30, 2023 5:09 pm

If the act of reading had a publicist, they’d be the most successful professional in the industry. 

The written word’s reputation has seen some pretty rapid shifts over the past few years. What once was revered as a competitive sport in our childhood (who could forget what SRA Reading Labs has done to many elementary school friendships?) eventually turned into an uncool alternative to 140-character tweets. Suddenly, it’s back in our lives with a vengeance—with online communities across YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok coming together to prove that it’s cool, it’s chic, it’s trendy.

Now that it’s here to stay, productivity systems and platforms are suddenly everywhere, luring us to hit a series of goals or complete multiple monthly challenges. For all I know, it might be one of your New Year’s resolutions to do those exact things. But for me, turning reading into a task that requires a multi-item checklist is exactly what will make us fall out of love with it again. The answer, I think, is not to treat the activity as something to be optimized or worked around, but to find ways to genuinely enjoy the multitudes it has to offer.

Here are some tips that helped me sustain my longstanding relationship with reading that might just do the trick for you.

List down benefits, not goals

Like any other bookworm with internet connection, I’ve had a Goodreads account since I was a freshman in college and I noticed I only managed to read a substantial amount when I stopped setting targets at the start of each year. It’s always been a bit of a trap, adding unnecessary pressure all while failing to take into account the many ways life could unfold unexpectedly and prevent us from reading regularly.

Instead, I tried to remember why I wanted to do it in the first place and what I hoped to gain from the experience. For you, it could be increased knowledge to secure a dream job, creative inspiration to get started on a project, or even decreased screen time and less Twitter-induced brain rot. It’s basic behavioral science: The motivation is what takes us from Point A to Point B, even during days when you’d rather succumb to the endless vortex known as your TikTok FYP.

Make time—you have more of it than you think

A common excuse for ditching reading is that we’re too busy for it. But regardless of what our schedules demand of us, we all instinctively grab for and mindlessly scroll through our phones more often than we’d care to admit. I set aside one day to plot out where my hours were normally going and tried to identify which parts I could convert into reading time—it’s why my most active hours are in transit or right before I go to sleep.

But the catch is, while you can definitely carve out certain pockets of time each day for the activity, you still shouldn’t read when you feel like it. If you’re too overwhelmed with consecutive meetings or would rather catch up on a comfort show instead, then by all means, go do it. To quote Madeleine Dore in her anti-hustle culture manifesto I Didn’t Do the Thing Today, “Consistent [reading] doesn’t have to be perfect; rather, it’s an accumulation of what we do over time.”

Read what you want and what you know you'll enjoy

Yes, comic books count. So do children’s books. Even steamy chick lit, whether in pocketbook, PDF, or podcast form. Reread your comfort book or guilty pleasure as many times as you deem necessary—there is no merit awarded to those with the most obscure titles in their personal libraries. Those who try to police you and tell you otherwise need some serious grass-touching in their routines.

Consistent [reading] doesn’t have to be perfect; rather, it’s an accumulation of what we do over time. —'I Didn’t Do the Thing Today' author Madeleine Dore

While platforms like Booktube have a track record of introducing us to titles we may have never discovered on our own, they tend to be implicitly imposing. Venturing out of our literary comfort zones once in a while may be rewarding but we might find it easier to hop on the bandwagon rather than admit that a universal favorite just doesn’t resonate with us the same way. My advice: Don’t be bound to what goes viral and don’t be afraid to let go of what doesn’t work. It might just be the nerd in me but there is immense joy found in going around bookstores, perusing the plot summaries at the back of physical copies, and deciding for yourself which one you think will be worth your time.

Have conversations with the book

Whoever is keeping pages sacred and scot-free in the year 2023 is clearly missing out. Annotating is a great way to engage with the text and unveil layers of meaning that can’t usually be spotted by merely skimming. Some people enjoy using an extensive collection of post-it flags and pastel highlighters to scribble thoughts in the margins of their copies. If this sounds like you, you can keep tabs on whatever sparks your interest, i.e., passages that articulate emotions you never thought you could feel, prevalent themes or character arcs throughout the story, etc. If you’re anything like me, you can just scribble “same” or “sana all” wherever you want. You’re just as valid.

Interact with fellow book lovers

The online book community is widely regarded as one of the last wholesome places on the internet for a reason. When it doesn’t drive itself to extremes, it can serve as a safe space to scream about our favorites freely, in the company of those who speak our language. Set up an account either to lurk or upload reviews of your own. Join a club that meets once a month to discuss and dissect a book of choice; bring a friend along as an accountability buddy or use it as an opportunity to meet new ones. Even the simple act of going through author interviews or browsing reviews is enough to paint your most recent read in a completely different light.

Now, I don’t claim to be an authority on the subject. It’s just that last year, after repetitive reading slumps brought by the Grueling Demands of Adulthood™, my attention span finally took pity on me and allowed me to finish a whopping 41 books. No rigid routines, no daily quotas. Just me, the characters, and their stupid and crazy adventures that are bound to stay with me forever. I think we all deserve to know the unique and special joy that comes with that kind of achievement; I hope I’ve somewhat helped you become one of them.